Changes, Tweaks, and Other House Rules

One of the primary features of tabletop RPG games is that they’re inherently “hackable.” While house rules predate RPGs by a very long time – just look at various twists people have come up with for Monopoly, or even simple poker for that matter – the expansive (and quite often rules-heavy) nature of role-playing games means that there’s a greater variety of areas where players can alter things to better suit their tastes. While I’m sure there are some tables out there which keep everything by-the-book standard, my guess is that they’re in the minority by far.

To that end, here are five house rules (albeit comparatively modest ones) that my current group has introduced for our Pathfinder 1E campaign.

#1: Multiplying damage on a critical hit

We’d instituted this house rule before we even knew it was a house rule. You see, if you look at the various weapon tables, you’ll see that under the “Critical” column, they all have a multiplier listed; either x2, x3, or rarely, x4. So we took those literally, deciding that upon a successful critical hit, you totaled your damage (minus sources that used their own dice, such as sneak attack) and multiplied them by the listed amount. So if you dealt 12 damage with your greataxe on a critical, you inflicted 36 points of damage on an enemy. Seems obvious, right?

Except, as it turns out, that’s not how it works.

If you read the actual text regarding critical hits, it says “A critical hit means that you roll your damage more than once, with all your usual bonuses, and add the rolls together.” While it describes that as being a “multiplier” in the very next sentence, this is clearly a form of shorthand, much like the x2, x3 and x4 notations in the weapon tables’ Critical columns. So confirming a critical with a greataxe means rolling that d12 three times, adding your damage bonuses to each roll, and then totaling them up.

Given how this adds extra rolls to the process, slowing things down (e.g. the person playing the greataxe-wielding character probably doesn’t have 3d12 on hand in case of a critical), we weren’t too keen on it. There was also the fact that the official method made criticals less exciting. Once a critical hit is confirmed, the possibility of rolling the maximum value on the die is one that makes us all hold our breaths; that possibility is distinctly minimized when multiple dice are rolled, and the decrease in tension is one we were all very keenly aware of. For those reasons, we decided to keep doing it the way we had been, and we’ve yet to look back.

#2: Draw anything when moving (even just 5 feet)

The clause about drawing a weapon as a free action while moving (albeit only if you have at least a +1 Base Attack Bonus, which all martial characters had as of 1st level, and everyone else did after that) is one that we all found fairly easy to keep in mind from the get-go.

What we tended to overlook, however, was that this only worked with regard to a “regular move.” While not rigorously clarified, that phrase probably means “taking a move action to actually move” across the battlemat, as opposed to charging, running, or taking a 5-foot step. But my group overlooked this fairly early on, and so it quickly became a regular feature where we’d draw weapons while doing any of those things.

But while that was an unintentional reinterpretation of the rule on our part, we were far more deliberate about expanding what could be drawn beyond weapons. Simply put, the fact that you could draw a weapon – any kind of weapon, from a dagger sized for a halfling to a greataxe larger than your half-orc barbarian – as a free action while moving, but not any other kind of item, damaged our sense of verisimilitude. Was a wand really that much harder to draw than a shortsword? Is a potion more difficult to manipulate than a whip?

Ultimately, we couldn’t countenance such an artificial distinction, particularly when it was so punishing with regard to the game’s action economy. So now, moving any distance for any reason (unless the movement is involuntary, such as if you’re being bull rushed), allows you to draw an item kept on your person.

#3: No more Heighten Spell feat

Heighten Spell is a feat that we’ve done away with completely in our game. The reason for doing so isn’t because we don’t care for what it does, but because what it does shouldn’t be locked behind a feat to begin with. If you’re casting a spell via a slot that’s higher than the spell’s actual level, you’re already taking a drawback (since there are presumably spells appropriate to the slot being expended that would be more powerful/useful). So allowing for the spell’s DC to be adjusted according to the new slot, without requiring a feat to make that happen, seems like the least that can be done.

There are several other reasons for this change, most of which are comparatively minor in scope, but collectively make for a compelling point. For instance, Heighten Spell is a metamagic feat, which means that whenever a spontaneous spellcaster uses it to cast a spell with a casting time of 1 standard action now has to take a full-round action, punishing them further. It’s not like they can avoid this with a magic item either, since there is no metamagic rod of Heighten Spell. And of course, having the spell function as per the slot used to cast it without requiring Heighten Spell makes it a little easier to get through a globe of invulnerability, keeping spellcasters a little more relevant when that spell comes into play.

#4: Activating (most) magic weapon properties is a free action

If you take a look at the “Activation” entry in the overview for magic weapons, you’ll see that those weapons with properties that need to be deliberately initiated (as opposed to providing a passive bonus of some sort) require a standard action on their wielder’s part to do so.

This is far, far too high of a cost under the game’s action economy.

Since you only get one standard action in a combat round, and making a single attack is itself a standard action, this means you’re essentially losing an attack in order to activate your weapon’s flaming property. And if your weapon has the shock property in addition to being flaming, you’re now using TWO standard actions – essentially, giving up two combat rounds – in order to get the benefit of both properties. And if you’re dual-wielding a pair of flaming shock weapons, well…you might as well not even bother entering combat.

The above is why we’ve house ruled all such weapons to need only a free action to activate or deactivate. Doing so stops punishing characters for choosing particular properties (and also eliminates instances of people leaving their weapon properties active in perpetuity, claiming that just because they’re magic they won’t set anything on fire when put in a sheathe or laid down across a bedroll; I really hate that entire idea).

That said, this rule isn’t completely universal. If a weapon property grants the weapon the ability to act on its own (such as dancing weapons), then activating it still requires a standard action, since otherwise it’s essentially granting the wielder an extra action when invoked, as opposed to not wasting the single action they would otherwise have put to better use.

#5: Certain magical properties don’t cost extra when added to existing magic items

This one’s a little arcane (pun intended), so bear with me.

If you recall the 3.5 Magic Item Compendium, you might remember that there was a small-but-significant adjustment to the rules for creating magic items at the end of the book’s sixth chapter. While written in a fairly discursive manner, it dealt with the little-known rule for adding new abilities to extant magic items, quietly eliminating the x1.5 multiplier for certain “common effects.”

Most (but not all) of these effects were related to the “Big Six” of magic items; specifically, there was no longer a cost multiplier associated with adding armor, deflection, or natural armor bonuses to AC, resistance bonuses to saving throws, enhancement bonuses to ability scores, or energy resistance onto an existing magic item. This freed up a few thousand gp here and there for PCs to be able to afford magic items that were less mechanically helpful but were far more evocative in what they did. (From a narrative standpoint, I like to think that these effects simply “take” to being built into items easier than others, and that explains why they don’t cost as much to add into existing magic items.)

Unfortunately, coming so late in the life-cycle of 3.5, this rule never got added to the SRD, and so was never incorporated into Pathfinder 1E. But since it’s so easy to institute, we had no trouble implementing it anyway, and found that it helped to diversify our magic items in a way that the MiC’s designers no doubt hoped.

What house rules have you added to your tabletop RPG campaigns? Sound off in the comments below!

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